Since the COVID-19 pandemic thrust the world into shelter-in-place mode, more people are relying on the Internet to stay informed and entertained, and to learn and work than ever before. According to a recent Forbes report on Internet usage since COVID-19, total Internet hits have jumped 50% to 70%, and streaming has jumped by at least 12%. Furthermore, broadband providers have experienced a 30% to 50% traffic surge across their mobile and fixed networks. With upticks like that, it’s no surprise that people are beginning to question, with some even experiencing Internet anxiety (and yes, that’s a thing), whether the Internet can handle all the growing traffic. The answer? So far, so good.
So far, so good
Yes, Internet usage is spiking, but the Internet was designed to be robust and resilient, and Internet service providers say they can handle the spike. In fact, usage hasn’t even noticeably suffered. In the US, for example, the large networks of fiber-optic cable that run throughout the country and between cities have the capacity to deliver as much Internet service as needed. The only hiccup in that right now might be in video conferencing from home, since cable and phone companies that provide home broadband don’t have the same capacity as the big networks. Thus, the biggest disruptions to Internet usage, such as slow downloads or dropped connections, will mostly be experienced while using video, social media or video conferencing services like Netflix, YouTube, and Zoom.
Some countries in Europe, in fact, are already experiencing these types of connectivity issues. As a result, operators such as Netflix and Disney+ are cutting back their bandwidth use and their picture quality to help prevent network congestion and Internet outages. These are temporary measures introduced in response to pressure from the European Union, which believes they are needed to keep their Internet infrastructure from crashing. One reason that Europe has more of these issues than the US is their older infrastructure; the Internet speed of some European nations is less than half of what’s standard in the US. Consequently, measures to cut back on bandwidth or picture quality haven’t yet been deemed necessary in the US.
But it’s not a home run yet
Nonetheless, the US might end up following in Europe’s footsteps. For example, experts are worried about older cable broadband networks and DSL networks, which won’t work so well for homes that need to use multiple video conferencing applications. And on a global level, there has been a general degradation in monthly speeds for fixed broadband.
Hackers’ sweet spot: SMBs
There’s another cause for concern too: all the increased Internet usage has significantly expanded the attack surface, meaning malware remains a growing threat. Corona cyber malware is a good example of such a threat. Reason Labs recently released a report on dangerous malware that is disguised to look like a coronavirus tracking map, but is actually a map that has been modified to contain malware. Hackers and even nation states are using the maps and phishing attacks to infect computers and steal sensitive information. And while attacks such as these may not break the Internet, they will infect your data and computers and potentially cause insurmountable damages. This is especially true for SMBS, which often don’t invest sufficiently in cybersecurity because they mistakenly believe that hackers aren’t interested in them, or that their resources are better spent elsewhere. On the contrary, however, hackers see SMBs as not only profitable, but as easy targets too; SMBs have essentially become their sweet spot. What SMBs should be doing is increasing their cybersecurity. The cost is minimal and will be far less than any costs incurred from a cyberattack. They should remind their employees that their work is still confidential and to take security precautions, and they should educate their employees about the dangers of cyber attacks and how to recognize them. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, business computers should be protected by a powerful endpoint security solution that detects and prevents malware, preferably one that offers camera and microphone protection to stop hackers from spying on private meetings during video conferencing sessions.
The silver lining
Overall, however, all evidence points to the Internet being able to withstand the increased Internet usage and deliver connectivity to everyone. There might even be a silver lining in that this whole experience could make the Internet even more robust. The pandemic is driving the most rapid expansion in years and many Internet giants are rolling out upgrades as quickly as possible. Plus, cable companies are initiating policies to help users now that may become permanent in the future.
And the takeaway is?
Mark Twain famously once said that “It is dangerous to make forecasts, especially about the future.” Witty, but true especially when we’re talking about the Internet and it’s resilience, as there are just too many unknowns to guarantee that it will continue to run without disruptions. So far, however, so good; it’s doing great. And as the pandemic has so vividly demonstrated, a robust and reliable Internet is vital to our world and our daily lives, so this pandemic may even spur welcome improvements. How’s that for relieving Internet anxiety?